As of January of this year, the unemployment rate in the United States is 5.7 percent and in Spain it’s around 7.6 percent. But in the southern Andalusia province is a small town called Marinaleda that has virtually no unemployment thanks to the city’s farming cooperative, that allows laborers to earn a wage of 1200 euros ($1600) per month. The town with a population of 2,600 also has no police and anyone wanting to build a home can do so with materials and labor provided by the city. This is all because of the town’s bushy bearded mayor Robin Hood-esqe mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, Marinaleda has been getting a lot of attention for being a sort of hidden socialist utopia, because of Gordillo’s alternative way of running his town. Gordillo has been the town’s mayor since 1979 and made headlines when he allowed citizens who could not afford to eat to shoplift without prosecution. Gordillo who also serves as leader of the party Collective for the Unity of Workers has been a militant hero for Spain’s working class and views the organized shoplifting as duty to his people.
“There are people who simply don’t have enough to eat,” explained Mr Sanchez, describing the raids as a symbolic and peaceful reaction to the government’s handling of the economic crisis. We’ve decided to expropriate basic foodstuffs and give them to the soup kitchens, which are struggling to provide for everyone because demand has increased.”
This of course hasn’t been particularly popular with Spain’s political parties and has earned Gordillo his share of critics. “One can’t be Robin Hood and at the same time earning a salary as the sheriff of Nottingham,” said Alfonso Alonso, parliamentary spokesman for the ruling PP in Spain’s parliament.
The small farming community drastically stands out from the rest of the poverty-stricken Andalusia province. For instance, throughout the province there are 690,000 empty properties due to bank foreclosures and 30 percent of Andalusian families live in poverty. But in Marianaleda, a family is allowed to live on 192 square meters of property for just $19 a month. Gordillo says that he believes that people have a natural right to the land, and like food is not something to be speculated on. “We also believe in the [common] sovereignty of [food] as a way of profoundly changing agriculture in the world, not just one particular place.”
Not unlike Robin Hood, Gordillo’s politics have landed him in trouble. In November 2013, a Spanish court sentenced Gordillo to seven months in prison for occupying unused military. But while Spain’s ruling political party may not be a fan, the people who have re-elected him champion him as a fundamental good to their community. Gordillo just hopes the rest of the world might come around to his way of doing things.
“When there’s injustice in the world, you have to rebel and take the consequences. What’s important is that in Marinaleda, we have shown that there’s another way to do things.”